Sunday, July 27, 2014

Apocalypse Avoided: Did Nazi Germany Plan to Nuke New York City?

by Nomad

Two years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, a claim  by a top level US missile defense chief reveals how close we came to nuclear war.

While trawling the archives, I stumbled across an August 2 1947 newspaper article. According to the piece, a top level official for Air Force alleged that Germans had made plans to launch a nuclear attack from the other side of the Atlantic in order to destroy New York City.

That allegation was made by Brig. General William L.Richardson in a CBS science radio show. As  chief of the Guided Missiles Division in the Office of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff for Operations at Army Air Force headquarters, Richardson is clearly a person who ought to know what he was talking about.  His career was, to say the least, illustrious. Here's a snippet of his biography prior to this statement:
Joining the War Department General staff in June 1941, he was assigned to the Planning Branch of the Operations and Training Division.

Going to England in August 1942, General Richardson was assigned to the Eighth Air Force staff where he organized and trained its airdrome defense units. The following February he went to North Africa to study air defense operations, and in March 1943 returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, to organize and train the 51st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade. Four months later this brigade was assigned to the Fourth Air Force, which was defending the West Coast and training Air Force units for overseas theaters.
In December 1943, General Richardson organized and trained the Ninth Air Defense Command of the Ninth Air Force, and planned the air defense operations for the continental invasion. 

According to Richardson, the Germans had developed a two-stage rocket known as the "A" series, a progression of advanced rocketry. This series included the V-2 rockets which were used to devastate London and other cities in Great Britain. 
It is not hard to visualize what might have been in store for the Allies had the Germans been given sufficient time to complete developments.
The article is quite specific. Richardson explains that each of the "A" series was developed primarily for research. However, the A-4, was the only rocket design that actually became operational when it was re-named the V-2. The A-series, according to Richardson, was to culminate in the A-10, a weapon to bomb New York City from launch sites in Europe. 

The project was, in fact, codenamed Projekt Amerika with a launch date of 1946. (The rocket reportedly had one weakness, its guidance system was inaccurate at such long distances, requiring a pilot to make the one-way trip across the Atlantic.) 

Although that weapon was never actually constructed, all design studies and computation had been completed. So how close did they come to realizing the goal? 
Richardson claims that the A-10 "could have been built and served its purpose provided the German had been given another year of development and production."
Of course, some historians- with the advantage of historical perspective and later uncovered evidence- might not concur with Richardson's assessment.

The official described the rocket in great detail. The total weight of the A-10 was to have been 190,000 pounds of which the 140,000 was to be fuel. It was nearly 12 feet in diameter and 25 feet long. The rocket would have had  a speed of 2.500 miles an hour in the first stage and then accelerating to 6.000 miles an hour in the second stage.  Richardson claimed that the rocket would have carried a payload of 2,000 pounds.  

In the final line of the article, Richardson adds, rather nonchalantly:
..there is evidence to believe.. that the Germans intended to utilize an atomic warhead which would have made the weapon a very serious menace.
Unfortunately, there is no further elaboration on that claim. Yet, considering the source, Richardson's remark is an interesting one.
Most military historians believe that the German race to develop a nuclear weapon was pretty much a dead issue as early as late 1941. However, that view has been a matter of some controversy
For example, a 2005 book by Rainer Karlsch entitled Hitler's Bomb, claims that German researchers conducted  a successful nuclear weapon test of some type  of nuclear-related device in Ohrdruf, Thuringia on 4 March 1945. 
Despite supposed eyewitness testimony, no other evidence that Nazis possessed the capacity to build a nuclear weapon has been found.

That's not to say that the the Nazis could not have created a nuclear catastrophe on American soil.  Even without an actual atomic weapon, there were other threats. For instance, the use of a dirty bomb -part of Karlsch's theory- would have rendered much of Manhattan and the other boroughs uninhabitable.
For a long time.

Fortunately for New Yorkers, the prospect of dealing with a rocket carrying of a payload of 2000 pounds of drifting radioactive dust was- if the Brig. General Richardson is correct- was narrowly avoided.